I hope that you all had the best possible Christmas and New Year and managed to take a break in order to spend time with family and friends and catch up with some well-earned rest after another challenging year.

As we enter 2024, many will be considering New Year’s Resolutions – perhaps dusting off that gym membership, reaching for the cookbooks for new inspiration, perhaps taking up a new hobby or considering doing some volunteering. For most people, the New Year is a time of new beginnings and fresh starts. But, for many working families in Barnsley, it’s a time of considerable financial pressure. Christmas is an incredibly expensive time for those on the breadline, with many if not all facing the financial blues this January.

These financial pressures coincide with and contribute to the cost-of-living crisis. With prices already high and – despite what the Government says – still increasing, many families will continue to struggle to make ends meet. To make matters worse, this year we are set to face the highest tax burden since the Second World War and are facing another rise in gas and electricity bills that will cost more than they did last year as the Government have scrapped their Energy Bills Support Scheme.

Reflecting on 2023, it is impossible to overlook the incredible contributions of our key workers, volunteers, and local businesses. They were at the forefront, unwavering in their commitment to supporting our community through tough times and their dedication and sacrifices deserve our heartfelt thanks.

Despite how difficult things may seem, I am very hopeful that 2024 can be a big year of change and renewal for our Town. The prospect of a General Election looms which offers us all an opportunity to shape the direction of our country and advocate for the interests of our community at the ballot box.

The challenges we face are significant, but they are not insurmountable, and I am hopeful that the spirit of unity and determination that defines our Town will drive us forward, to build a brighter future that both addresses local challenges but also sets our country on a path of a decade of national renewal.

So, as we embark on this new chapter, let us carry with us the lessons learned from the past year – the strength gained through adversity and the unwavering belief that positive change is not only possible but imminent. May the year 2024 be a year of progress, unity, and hope for our Town and our country.

Happy New Year to you all.